Fug File: Fug The Cover

Fugs and Fabs: Various UK Magazine Covers


Oh, man. Some of these are so good. As ever, I have cover jealousy.

[Covers: GQ, Tatler, Elle, Harper's Bazaar]

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Fug the Cover: Natalie Portman on T Magazine


Several things about this cover gave me the giggles. The first is the expression on her face.

Natalie Portman

She looks DISGUSTED with us. All of us. This is the face of a woman who just watched someone burn a book and then eat the ashes on a gluten-only cracker covered in spray-can cheese. She knows you’re not standing up every hour and doing squats at your desk, and it revolts her. She sees you — your plain, fraying white underwear, your uncontoured face, your subscription to Seventeen that randomly started arriving one day and yet nobody believes you that you didn’t pay for it — and deems you wanting. So, as much as I understand people may respond to the spare, artsy effect of her eyes boring through you like a bitter drill, I personally do not want to read an article about this person who so clearly just saw me put potato chips on my sandwiches and LOATHES my excess.

But the thing is, you actually have to read the article. Because it is A Thing That Has Happened. It’s a string of self-conscious e-mails between Natalie Portman and Jonathan Safran Foer — ostensibly because they are old friends who’d fallen out of touch, but also because both have new projects to promote — that are so heavily considered and constructed, you imagine they tried every pose in the Typing Kama Sutra to impregnate them with Meaning. And… I mean, behold one of his, whipsawing between pretension and Oh Wait I Have A Job To Do:

“It’s almost 6:00 in the morning. The boys are still asleep. The guinea pigs are stirring, but that might be a residue of a nightmare. People often refer to aloneness or writer’s block as the two great challenges of being a novelist. In fact, the hardest part is having to care for guinea pigs.

Am I correct that A Tale of Love and Darkness is the first project that was entirely your own conception?

There is also a LONG lead-in about when garbage day is on his street, which is allegedly a feeder into a question about ritual, but which seems more like an exercise in vanity. And she asks him almost nothing, which is perhaps fair given that technically he is the interviewer here, but still. Most of her stuff is waxing poetic and then being like, “Oops, gotta go,” for some domestic reason. However, the most compelling reason to wade through it all is to appreciate the genius of The Millions’ parody that reimagines the exchange as between Natalie Portman and Cormac McCarthy. TREAT. YO. SELF.

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Fug or Fab the Cover: FKA Twigs on Elle, August 2016


One of the most interesting things about this cover is that Elle.com itself published an essay criticizing it.

FKA Twigs on Elle, August 2016

Hang on, let’s get the superficial stuff out of the way first, like how this cover is busier than Blake Lively. It is a visual traffic jam, everything packed in there tightly with nowhere to move or breathe. Not only are we blanketed with text, but FKA Twigs’ outfit is every bit as cluttered. I count a tank dress, a sheath, a corset, a belt, a purse, and at least two large skeleton keys, in addition to a whole lot of jewelry on her head and arms. [Edited to add: Many of you in the comments pointed out that it looks problematically like she's wearing a collar and/or in bondage or chains, which is ALSO a good point. FKA Twigs tends toward a bondage aesthetic sometimes, as you can see on this other cover, so I think that's why I skated by it -- but I also think it's an astute and worthy thing to bring up, and that it shouldn't be skated past, regardless of whether we're used to it from her.] The text, I get; FKA Twigs is not a household name here — and if she is, it might be because people recall her engagement to Robert Pattinson (by the way, “catnip love life” is an absurd way to describe that) — and so there is heavy-lifting being done to contextualize her. Fine, sure. But styled right, I think the photo could have piqued people’s interest along with a very simple compliment that she is the new Prince. Done. Let’s not blow a gasket addressing notes the public haven’t even given, you know? Stand by your cover subject. Let her attempt to speak volumes. (And indeed, some of the interior photos are really striking. She has very soulful eyes.)

But: Melissa Harris-Perry, a former MSNBC anchor, joined Elle in April and published an essay about this entitled, “What Do You See When You Look At This Cover?” In it, she describes her reaction to seeing a “Becky With The Good Hair” joke plonked so prominently next to FKA Twigs’ own.

I was not the first person to point out the complications of this cover line. It does not really matter who was. What matters is this: within the ELLE family, some folks looked at this image and saw “hell yes!” and some folks looked at it and saw “what the hell?” [...] The question of whether ELLE has committed a racial faux pas or even an egregious act of racism by inserting the “Becky with the good hair” reference right next to the lovely visage of FKA twigs on our August cover is not merely a matter of opinion, taste, or aesthetic; it is a matter of race, power, privilege, and ongoing issues of diversity and representation in the industry. [...] When our cover asks, “Becky who?” some editors saw a reference to a now-famous subversive Beyoncé lyric. It is that. Other editors see a reference to painful, and at times divisive, racial history, where white women stole the culture, the lives, and the loves of black women, and black women fought back by discursively diminishing them as “Beckys” in return. It is that too.

It’s a very interesting piece that touches on the fact that many people, including those in the author’s own family, saw different things and had different views of this cover and this line’s place on it.  She also eloquently contextualizes the weight of the words “good hair” and the ways in which black women feel subverted by them, especially in an industry whose fashion magazines have not always been egalitarian about race. And indeed, another focal point of her argument is the interior pages of the issue:

My initial reaction to the Becky/ good hair reference on the cover was… meh. But I got mad when I turned to page 110 as referenced in the tease. There I found a full-page image of a white woman with platinum blond hair with the word BEAUTY emblazoned across her bangs and “America’s Most Wanted” beneath her chin. Now I was pissed. Eyes red and swirly, smoke coming out of my ears, mad. I thought the “good hair” reference next to FKA twigs could potentially be subversive, suggesting that her dark, stylish locks are an alternate definition of “good hair” displacing all the Beckys of the world. I dislike good/bad dichotomous thinking about hair, but I was willing to read this as a disruption of Eurocentric standards—a kind of interesting inversion. But page 110 was downright triggering!

It’s worth checking out the rest of the piece (which also contains links to Elle’s and Bustle’s features on all the hair featured on Lemonade — and in Bustle’s case, a deeper probe into what those styles mean). I applaud Elle for giving one of its contributors space on its site to question its actions, almost like an ombudsman, and I agree that there is something very jarring about turning a pointed and charged lyric like that into a cutesy tease for a story that proceeds to prescribe exactly what good hair should be. And the placement does further come across as questionable.
What do you think?
[Photo: Elle]

 

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Fug or Fab: Gigi Hadid on Vogue, August 2016


I feel like there are two separate things about this cover. 1) The quality of the photo itself, and 2) WHY this photo.

Let’s address them one at a time.

1) It’s Gigi Hadid’s first Vogue cover, and she’s certainly at least connecting with the camera. It’s accomplished. I want to mention, too, that some of the photos inside are fabulous. They are visually arresting as a fashion spread, especially the one in which they’re both leaping into the air on almost the same line. But as a cover, this enterprise comes across like something bigger fell through and so an inside story got elevated to the front. I don’t love the framing here, particularly; it renders Gigi a bit amorphous in that wetsuit-esque thing (I feel for some reason like I should be able to see the separation of her legs; it looks better in the plain uncrossed version where you do see that she’s actually in a dress), and it’s also weird to have her holding a javelin in a photo that crops out the actual javelin. It could be anything: a pole, an oar, a . I get that WHAT she is holding is beside the point, probably, but… well, that brings us to point two.

2) What is the point of this, exactly? Is it an Olympics issue? Or is it just a tenuous hook for giving Gigi Hadid a cover, to capitalize on her renown and popularity among The Youngs? But does Gigi Hadid really need a hook, given that she’s one of the most prominent models in her age group, and this is the most prominent fashion magazine? If you read the profile, it’s a meandering, strange affair, managing to be about both them and neither of them; it winds around to him a little and her a lot, scratching his surface, highlighting really boring conversations they had about some restaurant and its food bowls. It even opens by owning its own underwhelming premise:

I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking that Gigi Hadid, the model who may be the biggest face in fashion right now, can’t possibly have much in common with an Olympic decathlete, except for the obvious, given that Ashton Eaton is poised to be the face of the 2016 games in Brazil.

To me, that says, “I know, I KNOW, this is the most tenuous connection EVER.” (They proceed to tie them together thusly: Ashton is a decathlete; Gigi’s best friend is Kendall, daughter of one of America’s most famous decathletes. Also, they have both lived in Santa Barbara. Sigh.)

All of which brings me to my main question: If the tie-in here was going to be about the Olympics, why couldn’t it just be athletes on the cover? Or female athletes with a male model? I understand that it’s hard to know exactly who will be on the Olympic team (and that there are no male models on Gigi’s level), given that trials hadn’t happened at the time they likely shot this. Ashton Eaton, though still a gamble given that he could’ve gotten hurt, was close to a sure thing and made for easy planning. But you know who else was, assuming you didn’t want to default to Serena Williams? Simone Biles, on the gymnastics team. Missy Franklin, the swimmer. Allyson Felix, the runner. All of them were virtual locks to be heading to Rio. A male athlete on there with them is fine; it’s just so outmoded (and thus, VERY Vogue) that the approach here was Super Accomplished Male Professional Athlete Poses With Lady Arm Candy. If the concern was which women would make it, they could’ve used eight or nine of the gymnasts in a piece about their group dynamic, knowing that five of them plus two alternates would — by press time — be announced as on the team. There were lots of ways to problem-solve this.

In sum, Gigi Hadid could’ve had a cover anytime. And it could’ve been all about her, without needing this bizarre crutch of a detour through Ashton Eaton’s training and whether he eats a normal amount of food (Gigi’s question, in fairness) and whether she is a natural at any kind of sports, because, hey, the Olympics are coming. Gigi Hadid does not need this dude or any dude or the Olympics to give her a leg up onto Vogue at this point, and Ashton Eaton does not need to be Vogue’s only face(s) of the Games. It just feels like Vogue‘s steps forward with cover subjects are too often followed by leaps backward, and this one could have been better planned to celebrate the achievements of the women who worked every bit as hard as Ashton Eaton has to go to the Olympics.

[Photo: Vogue]

 

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Fug or Fab The Cover: Amy Schumer on Marie Claire, August 2016


Okay. Let’s talk about this:

Amy Schumer Marie Claire August 2016

I cannot begin without noting that, you know, she’s wearing a leotard with a sheer panel in front, which…okay, listen, I don’t get why ANYONE is wearing a bodysuit on the cover of a magazine, unless they are professional gymnasts or wrestlers or ballet dancers or the CEOs of Danskin. At this point, writhing in a leotard on the cover of a magazine seems like…it’s been done. And certainly Amy Schumer’s brand does not seem like Pantsless Leotard, unless it’s for a bit. Props, however, to Marie Claire for using the word “revealing” right by her (tasteful) cleavage, and….brace yourself, but that snippy rant about pantlessless aside, I actually REALLY like this photo of her. It’s got so much personality. I thought her recent Vogue cover felt a bit stagnant — although, also, props to the Schum for landing Vogue AND Marie Claire in two months — but this one is sassy and vivacious. And, not for nothing, but I love that eye makeup on her. So, whilst I might have been muttering, “CAN’T WE TRY SOME PANTS?” were I in charge of picking the cover photo for Marie Claire this month, I’m not sure that I would have been able to resist the humor and movement in this one, either.

Marie Claire has excerpts of the interview up here, and mostly they make me want to take Amy out for a beer and yammer at her that she is awesome and funny and smart and very worthy of love. For example:

On being in love: “Being in love is the scariest thing in the world. You want to f-ing cry and scream. I can’t handle it. Every time we say good-bye, I think, This will have been a nice last week together. Or I tell myself nothing is real and he’s going to leave me and tell me he never loved me. I feel so bad for him. How exhausting it must be dating me.”

On dating Ben Hanisch: “I feel like Ben is the first guy who’s really been my boyfriend. There are guys who, if they heard me say that, would want to punch me in the face, but yeah, it’s the truth.”

On her first sexual experience: “My first sexual experience was not a good one. I didn’t think about it until I started reading my journal again. When it happened, I wrote about it almost like a throwaway. It was like, And then I looked down and realized he was inside of me. He was saying, ‘I’m so sorry’ and ‘I can’t believe I did this.’”

First of all, that virginity loss story makes me sad. Many people have less-than-ideal stories around their first sexual experiences, but that one seems like it’s toeing the line of consent (and certainly misses the mark of enthusiastic consent), and — to be exquisitely articulate about it — that’s rotten. Second: I hope this new dude is good people. I certainly relate to the feeling of WELL THIS IS GOING WELL SO SURELY IT’S ABOUT TO EXPLODE IN MY FACE but, Amy, you deserve a guy who is delighted to call himself your boyfriend and will only punch the air with joy, a la Eriq La Salle in the opening credits of ER, to get that promotion, and I hope this one is IT. Regardless, let’s order another round and discuss it.

[Cover: Marie Claire, by

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Fug or Fab the Cover: Margot Robbie on Vanity Fair


Before we dig into the charcuterie of mung that is the actual profile of Margot Robbie, let’s check out the cover itself:

Margot Robbie on Vanity Fair's July 2016 issue

It’s better than the Vogue cover, on which she was (I assume inadvertently) painted like a Goldfinger victim, but it’s also a weird combination of looking like Naomi Watts and an SI: Swimsuit Issue photograph. I also don’t know that I would have gone with the subhead about her on the cover, because the story has little to do with that. It’s The Summer of Margot Robbie. Just stick with that and don’t try to parse the point of a profile that is pointless and unparseable. Don’t believe me? JUST YOU WAIT.

Actually, don’t. Let’s get into it now. In fact, let’s start with the very first line. And I must warn you that this profile made me SUPER CRANKY, so if you don’t want that, close this tab. If you’re down with the crabby, then proceed.

it begins poorly

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Well Played: Simone Biles and Gabby Douglas on Teen Vogue


I love these covers. If I were a teen, I would run out and buy them; if I were the mother of a teen, I’d be delighted to see them arrive in the mail:

These covers are, simply put, utterly great. Both Simone and Gabby look like the strong, confident, supremely talented young women that they are. There is no weird fashion-mag artifice here; no decision was made to put them in some kind of directional, glossy milieu. Obviously, they’re both very pretty, and these are compelling photographs, but part of what is wonderful about these covers is that they’re primarily focused on how good Simone and Gabby are at what they do. I particularly love that Teen Vogue chose to run a photo of Simone where she’s lightly covered in chalk dust — it’s got a beautiful effect on the image, like an Instagram filter, except it’s actually a tool that she uses to dominate at work every day:

This quote, from Gabby’s interview, is likewise great:

Gabby’s mother (who doubles as her manager), Natalie Hawkins, reflects: “I remember when everyone was talking about her arms, and she became very self-conscious about how muscular they were. Then Gabrielle saw the elegance with which Serena Williams handled all the negative criticism of her own body. It was liberating for my daughter to see that. She said, ‘I don’t have to apologize to anyone about my body. My body is beautiful.’”

Hell, yes, it is. YOU ARE BOTH PERFECT AND DON’T EVER FORGET IT.

(You can read interviews with both women in whole at Teen Vogue.)

[Photos: Jason Kibbler, Teen Vogue]

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